Ultimate Crisis

Zero Hour
by Bob Young and Chip Caroon

Captain America
Mr. Fantastic
Silver Surfer
Victor Cranston
Peter Parker
Detective Chimp
Jean Grey
Dr. Doom
Black Adam

Galactus was nearly ready to activate his machine – one that would suck the life out of the world!

Since Cap's JLA partners were caught in the stalemate of their battle with four of Galactus' heralds - Firelord, Lobo, Terrax, and Black Adam - and the cosmic powered Dr. Doom, Cap was on his own. It was up to him to stop Galactus somehow! He bravely climbed the tower, ready to face an all-powerful opponent!

Nearby, Batman watched Cap go. He knew what the star-spangled hero was up to. The dark knight admired Cap's boundless courage. No wonder he was a living legend.

Batman had been tending to rescue operations. He knew Galactus and his heralds were out of his league in a face-to-face confrontation. He watched, looking for weakness. If he spotted any, he would formulate a plan and recruit his teammates to carry it out. In the meantime, he silently wished Cap luck and continued rescuing people in the area caught in the crossfire.

On top of Big Ben, Cap stepped out into the presence of the infinitely powerful alien being. He repressed a shutter and did what he had to do.

"Galactus! As long as one member of the Justice League of Avengers is standing, you haven't won! We will not give up and we have never been beaten. Your heralds can't stop us. So why don't you negotiate as Wonder Woman asked you to!"

Galactus looked down at Cap. "Your foolish audacity is beyond belief, human. I would find it amusing were it not so vexing. Your courage is laudable but you are deluded in your belief that the will of Galactus can be thwarted by the likes of you. Go away, little flea. It is time for Galactus to feed!"

"You've never seen human courage and determination before, have you?" Cap asked. "Well, learn what makes us great!"

Cap threw his shield, and it rebounded harmlessly off Galactus. Galactus sneered down, annoyed. This human was courageous but disrespectful. With a mere effort of will, Galactus mentally summoned one of the service droids from out of the device. It leaped with gravity defying alacrity and landed on top of Big Ben, at Galactus' feet.

It attacked Captain America. The star-spangled hero put up his shield to defend himself.

Reed Richards, working with determined speed on his multiverse portal engager at the Hall of Justice, finally announced: "Done!"

"The device is completed?" Jarvis, the JLA's butler asked.

"It seems so," Reed said. "I haven't had a chance to test it, but I can do so now."

"How so?"

"By opening a portal to London," Reed said. "You'd better step outside, Jarvis. Just in case."

"Good luck, sir."

Reed waited no longer. He activated his dimensional gateway. Immediately, a portal to London opened. "It worked!"

Galactus was done! He began activating his machine. Long tentacles stretched out of the machine and reached down to the ground. They drilled into the ground and down into the Earth's core. Galactus was satisfied. His machine began to hum more. In just a few more seconds, it would be ready for its task . . . to suck the Earth dry!

Galactus sensed something. He looked up and saw Harbinger and the Silver Surfer arriving. "Where have you two been? I summoned you some time ago? Why did you not come?"

"Murderer!" the Silver Surfer yelled. "Monster! Slayer of worlds! Executioner of billions! You are an abomination!"

"What is this?" Galactus asked, confused by this atypical behavior. "Have you gone mad? I am your master."

"You are my personal devil!" the Silver Surfer yelled. "You tempted me into becoming as evil as you are! But that is past, and I now defy you!"

Harbinger was by his side. "We stand united against you. You must not destroy the Earth!"

"This is beyond belief!" Galactus bellowed. "The slave gives orders to the master! How dare you? I give you the opportunity to beg my forgiveness or I will make you suffer horribly for it!"

"You are a universal aberration!" the Surfer yelled. "I will stand against you, until my last breath!"

The Silver Surfer unleashed his cosmic power against his former master. The city was bathed in the glow of his massive energies. Meanwhile, Harbinger multiplied herself, prepared to back the Surfer up, should he need it. She knew he was the more powerful and allowed him to take the initiative. But she was determined to do her part to save her world.

Reed Richards pushed his new multiverse dimensional machine through the portal and suddenly found himself in London.

I must work quickly, he thought, to find an alternate universe to banish Galactus to. I need to find a world that is uninhabited, so that this creature can destroy no more civilizations!

Reed used a dimensional monitor - based on the Negative Zone viewer created by the late Doc Savage - to scan parallel Earths, hoping to find one that was uninhabited. He hoped that the Silver Surfer could give him a few minutes more.

Alas, it was not to be!

The Silver Surfer and Harbinger put up a valiant struggle . . .

. . . for about fifteen seconds. But soon, Galactus was furious and out of patience. With a wave of his hand, he stripped both the Surfer and Harbinger of their cosmic powers. They fell to the ground, helpless. An angry Galactus focused his eye-beams on them, incinerating both of them!

Without another thought, he turned his attention back to his device. It was ready. With the final flick of a switch - It began!

The cables began to suck the life out of the planet Earth. In seconds, the Earth began to shake. Global upheavals occurred everywhere as the dying planet rebelled in vain.

Trees began to die. Green and bushes shriveled and faded. The sky started to darken. The oceans began to dry up. The insects began to die and then the fish and the birds and the animals.

And then it was time for the humans. As the skies grew blacker than they had ever been, every single being on the planet convulsed.

In New York City, a mass panic broke out. Buildings cracked and crumbled, and started to topple over. Not that it would matter, since the majority of the people crushed by the falling debris were already dead.

Natalie Casswell pulled the sheets closer to her body as she cuddled up closer to Victor Cranston. Victor held her tighter as he leaned down to kiss her one final time.

Peter Parker was also holding his girlfriend tightly. He said a silent prayer, knowing he did not have enough time to rush upstairs and give a proper goodbye to his Aunt May.

Bobo T. Chimpanzee was finishing his bottle as fast as he could, cursing every drop that fell to the ground.

Somewhere over Europe, the X-Men's jet headed into free fall.

"I love you guys!" Iceman shouted as the jet suddenly jerked up as a reaction of Beast's death throes.

Even though Jean Grey had been laying in Scott Summers' arms, the only man in her thoughts was an alien. Clark! she thought, with tears in her eyes.

No one on Earth was spared from a quiet death. Even the heroes who tried so hard to defend this world died thrashing in agony.

As they fell, an entire race died.

And then it all stopped. There was nothing left, except the shriveled, emaciated husk of a once beautiful planet. The Earth was a ruin.

The four remaining heralds - Lobo, Firelord, Black Adam, and Terrax - politely cheered their master's success. Galactus grinned a satisfied grin. It was a good meal.

Dr. Doom also survived the process, since he had the power of a herald, and the heralds were immune. Doom was stunned. Despite his iron will and mercilessness, nothing could have prepared him for this.

"Unspeakable!" Doom said. "I never imagined -- "

Lobo pointed at Doom. "What about this jerk, master? Do we frag 'em?"

Galactus thought for a moment. "Yes, he too must die. He has dared steal the precious cosmic gift that it is Galactus' alone to dispense. I will not tolerate such disrespect. Destroy him!"

"No!" Doom yelled. "I can be a valuable ally! You are short one herald! I could--"

But his pleas did no good. The other four heralds converged on him savagely. And they knew how to use their vast powers better than the inexperienced Doom.

In a matter of minutes, Doom was laying on the ground, his body battered and burned. His armor was mangled. He was dying.

He was the last man on Earth, and only moments away from death!

"End of Report," Brother Eye announced.

"And that . . . brings us up to just minutes before you came streaking in," Doom said, with labored breathing.

Superman sat back, sickened by what he'd seen. The destruction of the Earth and everything upon it. Only Brother Eye survived to tell the tale.

Of course, Doom was still alive - barely. And soon he'd be gone too, leaving Superman alone.

Superman suddenly lashed out, in a fit of helpless fury, punching a hole in the wall. He looked out of the hole and got another glimpse at what was left of the world. And a tear rolled down the man of steel's cheek.

"I failed," he whispered. "I'm sorry, Jean. I'm sorry, Lois. I'm sorry everyone. I should have been here for you. I am so sorry I let you down."

Superman dropped to his kness and cried. He sobbed like a baby, his mind barely able to accept this unthinkable loss. Another planet lost. He'd lost his people a second time.

Eventually he sat on the floor, looking up at the sickeningly grey sky through the hole in the wall. His mind began to wander. He was unable to focus on this catastrophe any longer.

"And where do I go now?" he said aloud. "Do I stay here, among the dead? Do I spend the years burying the whole human race? Or do I leave it all behind and try to find a place to go . . . to forget! No, I could never forget. But I need to get away from here. I can't stay on Earth. I can't be here where I'm constantly reminded of my failure!"

Superman paced, overwhelmed by his sorrow. "I'll just go. I'll fly away and never look back. But I'm going to miss everything so much! The sun setting over the western hemisphere . . . the music . . . birds in flight . . . oceans . . . the works of Shakespeare! All gone! No more children, no more animals, nevermore a butterfly! Everythng gone! Just gone!"

"Sentimental idiot," the weak voice of Doom hissed.

Superman frowned at Doom. "You'll be the last one, Doom. The last human to die. That should feed your colossal ego. But if it gives you one last laugh, I'll mourn even for you. For everyone. I failed, Doom! I wish I could have given Reed Richards just another minute! I'd give anything have another chance!"

"You do have another chance," Doom muttered weakly. "I have a . . . a time machine."

Superman looked at Doom, startled. Did he mean that, or was this his last malicious prank? If anyone was brilliant enough to create a time machine, it was Doom, but could he believe the dying tyrant?

"Toying with me on your deathbed, Von Doom?" he asked.

Doom sneered. "I always knew you were . . . all muscle. No brain. Maybe a little bit of heart. But you are the only one who can save me. You can save . . . all of us. Go. Down those stairs. Inside . . . vault. Time platform. Computer will . . . will tell you how to use it. Go. Hurry. This is your last chance. Save . . . the . . . world . . .

And with those words, Victor Von Doom died.

Superman was surprisingly affected by seeing Doom die. The death of the last human hit him hard. He looked to the stairway Doom had indicated. He didn't know if Doom had lied to him or not, but there was nothing to lose by checking it out.

Superman sailed down the stairs like a streak of light. He came to a vault, just as Doom had said. Superman easily tore the vault off its hinges. Inside, he saw a shiny platform lying on the floor.

So, there really is a platform of some kind. But is it really a time platform?

As Doom suggested, Superman checked the damaged but still functioning computer. It gave him step-by-step instructions how to use the time platform. He set the date and turned the device on. Now all he had to do was step on it and - in theory - he would be transported back to the past where he could redeem his failure and buy Dr. Reed Richards the few precious moments he needed. It seemed crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

"Please, let this work," he said aloud to the universe. "Let me get it right this time. Help me save them!"

Superman stepped on the platform and it instantly hummed to life. There was a bright glow and a loud buzz and the world around him seemed to fade.

Superman felt a slight disorientation as he slipped backwards in time. He watched the world going backwards around him. The world was reborn, moving backwards before the apocalypse. The universe looked surreal. Everything was strange.

And then he began to return to reality . . .

To be continued!